Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Diet Mission: Vegetarian

This month's diet mission is a fairly simple one. I just have to avoid eating meat for seven days, eating three meals per day.

I've done this diet before, but as a pescetarian which is slightly different, so it's not something I'm entirely unfamiliar with. A pescetarian eats fish, or more accurately, seafood, but not any other types of meat. In other words, no mammals, birds, reptiles, or amphibians. (Those last two are pretty easy to avoid!)

Because I'm giving up meat for experimental purposes, I fully expect to miss meat, which is why I ate a bunch of wings on Saturday night before beginning my new diet. However, that doesn't mean the week will be bland; I'll be able to have all the candy I want! Hooray!

Plus, I really like mushrooms, which are sort of like a vegetarian's meat. I know many people assume that's the role of tofu, but the notoriously tasty fungus is actually a more suitable meat alternative.

Vegetarian Philosophy

To live on a meatless diet, or rather one that does not directly lead to the death of any animal. (This includes any creature in the animal kingdom.)

Why the Vegetarian Diet?

There are three main reasons why someone would choose a meatless diet, and any vegetarian may be personally motivated by one or more of the following reasons:
  1. Health. To avoid red meat, or meats in general and their high propensity for food-borne illness and the potential threats to cholesterol and other health factors. Usually, someone who avoids meat purely for health reasons will follow a pescetarian diet, which includes high protein and omega-3 fatty acid levels.
  2. Personal taste. Some people just don't find meat appealing. This was the main cause of my previous meat avoidance. For some reason, I just couldn't look at meat without thinking about it being a dead body, leading me to imagining it analogous to eating roadkill, which made me want to throw up. I had nothing against others eating meat; it was just a matter of personal taste.
  3. Political beliefs. A vegetarian is often motivated to give up meat because of their intention to not create demand that leads to animal slaughter. There are many, many differing beliefs in this category that range from abstinence for a clear conscience to a pursuit of the universal banning of meat production.


By day two, like any good withdrawal, I was beginning to truly lament my new diet. After more than 24 hours of eating nothing but mushrooms and candy, I was craving bacon. Steak. A hamburger. It was time to get the next best thing: A veggie burger.

This also allowed me the chance to explore the vegetarian options at a typical fast food restaurant. One thing that's great about this diet is that it encourages you to avoid eating fast food, because you can pretty much only order the fries. (Although, now that I think about it, I wonder if the meat at a fast food restaurant is so far removed from nature that it could be considered meatless…)

Never mind that. I went to Burger King to order a veggie burger, which is not listed anywhere on their menu. After all, if anyone was going to do a vegetable-only variation on the classic burger, it would have to be the King, right?

I had ordered this item a few weeks ago—with bacon, as a joke—and it ended up being pretty good. As it turns out, it was without a doubt the bacon that lent it that flavor. This thing tasted like a bunch of beans, corn, and carrots smashed flat, which is exactly what it was. It sucked. And it wasn't Burger King's fault, either. Veggie burgers just have nothing on the real thing.

Veggie foods in denial
Vegetarians in transition, and some who like to amuse themselves, will buy products from the grocery store that emulate things like ground beef, turkey slices, and chicken wings. It could be denial. It could be nostalgia. It could be the irony. Whatever the motive, meat-emulating products are relatively popular, and they're all terrible.

There's good news, though. After a while, the memories of the sweet, savory taste of bacon and steak fade away. You begin to honestly believe that the occasional veggie burger tastes "just as good as the real thing." You're so used to eating handfuls of nuts all day that you no longer feel the need to eat soybean hot wings anymore. Yep, eventually the only meat substitutions you truly need are mushrooms and beans.


Aside from the aforementioned avoidance of fast foods, the reduction in cholesterol and saturated fats supplied by red meat, and the clear conscience of knowing that you didn't throw money at presumed animal cruelty, there's one very obvious and immediate benefit.

I rediscovered this as I did a round of grocery shopping at the end of day three. An entire cart of groceries that would normally cost well over $100 came out to just under $80. I had reduced my grocery bill by more than 20% just by not buying meat. How was this possible?

Rather than buying chicken, ground beef, pork chops, and steak, I was buying mushrooms, potatoes, and tomatoes—all significantly cheaper. I didn't need to buy any candy because I still had a ton left over from Halloween when no kids came to see the elaborate haunted house on my porch.

Why People Hate Vegetarians

On day four of my veggie excursion, my office ordered pizza for everyone. I always appreciate free lunch, but I had to consider my diet and realized that if I didn't speak up, every pizza would have pepperoni on it. I'd need to put in my request before the order was made. A special request—just for me.

"Can we get one that's just cheese? I can't have—" I stopped myself. Saying "can't" was a big pet peeve of mine last time I went down this road. On a voluntary diet, it's not that you can't have meat; you choose not to. If your throat swelled up like someone with a shellfish or peanut allergy, then yes, you could say that you can't have those items. So how to phrase the fact that I was making free lunch difficult merely to accommodate myself?

"I—I'm not eating meat right now," I said. I had figured the plain cheese pizza would be a decent compromise, since not everyone likes a massive pile of vegetables. However, the bean dip was out of the bag. I now had to explain the motivation for changing my diet.

My experiment offered me a great excuse. But when a long-term vegetarian describes their motives, it comes off a bit holier-than-thou. No matter how it's explained, a meat-eater hears this:

Health-seeking vegetarian: I don't eat meat because it's bad for you, and that's why you feel tired all the time and you're going to die before me.

Meat-taste-hating vegetarian: Meat makes me gag for some reason. Yes, I know this makes me completely insane.

Politically motivated vegetarian: I don't eat meat because I don't support vicious murder, like YOU, you MURDERER.

In the past, I found it easier to just avoid this situation altogether by not mentioning my diet. I don't ask someone why they don't eat the crust of their pizza, and I expect them to not question why I'm shunning pepperoni.

Dining Out

On day six, I went out to eat with my wife, son, brother, and sister-in-law. I picked a Thai restaurant because they tend to make meat-free food taste really, really good. There are a handful of dedicated vegetarian restaurants around town that we could have gone to, but that would have forced everyone into my diet for the evening. Plus, many of those restaurants tend to do wacky things like serving only room temperature water.

It's surprisingly hard to find restaurants that feature flavorful vegetarian food. Many places will have an obligatory option like a "veggie wrap" (which is about 90% bean sprouts) while others just don't grasp the concept at all. However, it's not their burden to provide you an option, just as they don't have to put diaper stations in the bathrooms. It's entirely up to them to determine whose repeat business they want.

But again, Thai restaurants are especially good at meaty and meatless options, and asian food in general is a pescetarian's paradise. However, no matter where you dine, there's always the chance that something will go wrong.

The Polite Vegetarian

On day seven, the last day of my diet mission, I went out to dinner with my wife's family at an Italian restaurant. Italian is great for a vegetarian, because there are plenty of tasty options that are meatless, consisting of pasta, sauces, garlic, and tons of butter. I ordered the baked cheese ravioli and enjoyed an endless stream of garlic rolls and vinaigrette-covered salad until the food arrived.

It was utterly and completely drenched in ground beef in a way that would make it impossible to just eat around it. There must have been a whole pound of it. I was excited, because I really wanted to eat meat but wasn't supposed to, according to the rules of my mission. I ate it anyway.

What were my other options? I could have asked them to take it back and make it again with no meat, or I could have just not eaten it, wasting my in-laws' money. Should I have known this menu item would have meat in it? It wasn't listed anywhere. Ravioli isn't a meat-covered dish unless it's specifically ordered that way, and there was a ravioli with meat sauce just underneath it. Either the menu didn't list it correctly or the server brought me the wrong thing.

The polite vegetarian breaks their diet and eats it anyway so they don't aggravate anyone with the nuances of their adamant chosen diet, and this is the approach I'd take every Thanksgiving when I'd be around ham and turkey, any time I'd go to someone's house and they'd serve me a roast or salad covered in bacon bits. I would be eating something I didn't really like just to appease the people providing it for me.


This was a pretty simple diet to get used to, compared to some of the others that have been proposed to me. If you can get past the initial meat withdrawal and find accommodations for yourself without aggravating those around you, there's really no problem. You may have to cook two meals for your family, but it's not too much of a burden.

Over the week, my weight didn't change at all. Any saturated fats I was avoiding from meat were supplemented by the saturated fats I was gaining in cookies. I didn't feel weak or lacking in any way.

I would say that this diet is highly sustainable if you make sure you're getting the proper nutrients and not just eating candy. Just try not to be too smug about it.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

I Want to Get Quaked

Did you feel the earthquake today? If you live in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, or Wisconsin, were awake at 4:58 AM EST (3:58AM Central), and were standing entirely still without any audible background noise, you probably did.

A magnitude 4.0 earthquake occurred at the New Madrid Fault between St. Louis, Missouri and Memphis, Tennessee at that moment. Yes, a 4 on the Richter scale isn't particularly impressive, but this earthquake was relatively shallow—3.1 miles deep, specifically. That's probably the only reason it was felt in 13 states.

By comparison, the 2010 Haiti earthquake that killed 316,000 people had an epicenter 8.1 miles deep and was a 7.0 on the Richter scale. A mere 3 miles deep is shallow enough for even the weakest earthquake to be noticeable.

I didn't feel it because eastern U.S. earthquakes are apparently nocturnal by nature and I slept right through it. Of course, being 350 miles from the origin of the quake, it probably supplied less of a boom than the thunderstorms I regularly sleep through. And even if I had felt it, I probably would have assumed it was some early morning activity at the loading dock to the flooring warehouse in my backyard.

Location of this morning's earthquake on the New Madrid Fault

There's almost no way to tell when an earthquake is about to strike, so it's pretty much impossible to listen for it. For people like myself who have always lived far from an active fault, we'd probably never know it was happening. Seismologists can look for foreshocks, but the problem with foreshocks is that they're only classified as such after a more powerful quake happens shortly afterward. With that logic, a 7.0 quake that crumbled thousands of homes could just be a foreshock to an 8.3 that happens just days later.

Further complicating the matter is that earthquakes are happening constantly. In fact, in the 24 hours before today's New Madrid Fault quake happened, there were 25 earthquakes worldwide, 18 of which were more powerful than 4.0. Many of these numerous daily quakes happen in the Pacific Ocean or elsewhere on the Ring of Fire, and most of them at a depth of more than 10 miles. I guess if you lived in the Ring of Fire you could predict that an earthquake would happen any day with relative certainty, but it would still be impossible to pinpoint a small window of time to expect it.

I missed my last chance to feel an earthquake in Georgia when I slept through a shallow one on April 29, 2003. It was a significantly stronger 4.9, and a mere 72 miles away, but it also happened just before 5 AM.

A geologist friend of mine later told me about how incredibly excited he was, jumping out of bed and yelling, "I think that was an earthquake!" Many other Georgia residents were talking about it all day.

"I thought it was a bomb!"

"It knocked a picture off my wall!"

"My dog knew it was coming and pooped on the floor right before it happened!"

I don't know why all these people were up so early. I suspect some of them were trying to make me jealous. Well, it worked.

I want to feel that earthquake. I've been in several tornadoes, and while their power is nothing to scoff at, there's just something more exciting about the planet below you groaning and rearranging itself on a massive scale. Let me clarify something, though: I don't envy those in major disasters, nor do I want to be in their situation. It's just that an earthquake in Georgia is pretty much guaranteed to be nothing more dangerous than a firework being set off in the parking lot outside of your apartment window; a natural disaster worth experiencing. By comparison, a tornado can hit you in the face with a cow.

I've seen floods. I've been on the receiving end of the dying arms of a hurricane's spiral many times. I've driven through half a dozen tornadoes. I could take a vacation to see an erupting volcano as soon as I have the money. Once, just once, I want to feel an earthquake.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Physically Deleting Bad Memories

Sometimes the fourth dimension can be held still by the other three. Certain locations conjure memories almost as well as they convey the present. If you think about it while you're there, just standing in the same physical space where something notable happened at some point in the past will make you feel some sort of a connection to the event.

The bomb was placed near the rightmost small green building
I felt this way as I stood in Centennial Olympic Park in downtown Atlanta, across the street from the Georgia Aquarium and World of Coca-Cola. I was looking for the exact location of the bombing that occurred during the Olympic games in 1996, and was standing in the spot that my research led me to conclude was the exact location where the explosive device detonated. Hours before this happened, I had been in the park with a friend's family; later that night I saw my dad glued to a television watching news footage of the terror attack play on a loop.

I looked at the park, very much different than half a lifetime ago when the attack happened, and envisioned a nighttime scene of nearly a hundred people injured by shrapnel. Though the only people in sight were tourists in winter coats, I felt I was more vividly able to experience the dramatic scene simply by standing where the explosion occurred.

Then I walked up Ivan Allen Jr. Boulevard with the hope of finding the pay phone that Eric Rudolph called in the bomb threat with, just three blocks away. He hadn't wanted to hurt any children or individuals he deemed "innocent," so he picked up the pay phone to call an operator. Despite placing a deadly device nearby, his intention was to evacuate the park, leaving just police officers nearby to be injured. When the operator picked up, he had just enough time to read the words "We reject your—" before being hung up on. The telephone operators during the Olympics didn't have time to mess around.

I searched, but the pay phones were gone. The phones were gone due to being obsolete and not due to any negative publicity, but I couldn't help thinking about what it might have been like to pick up the handset he used and hold it. I certainly don't respect his actions, but there's something curious about that thought that can't quite be explained.

It's the same reason tourists in New York City gather outside of The Dakota building where John Lennon was shot. It's part of why Auschwitz still exists — as a museum. It's very much the reason that the hypocenter of the nuclear attack on Nagasaki has a monument.

The precise location of the last wartime nuclear explosion

Not all notable physical locations memorialize terrible events, of course. We can stand where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his historic speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, visit Bethesda Fountain in Central Park and think of the dozens of movie scenes that have been shot there, or visit the Alamo or any other fort in the world and think about the brave soldiers who fought to the death there.

As I headed toward the Georgia Aquarium, I shuddered while thinking about the free Nickelback concert I had attended on that plot of land just a decade before. Not all physical locations are notable.

But while massive disasters — nuclear bombings, concentration camps, the World Trade Center attacks — are hideous on such a scale that they cannot, should not be forgotten, some horribly tragic events are just small enough that society chooses to delete them. If they can't get them out of their mind, at least they can wipe them off the face of the Earth.

Houses that serial killers committed their heinous deeds in can still be sold. There's no law against it, and no law requiring disclosure of the events at any point. There's always going to be tourists and entrepreneurs looking to experience or capitalize on the macabre so one might expect that these structures might stick around, but the people in the community generally decide to completely eliminate these locations altogether (whether by public agreement or anonymous vandalization). I'll admit that I'll drive past one of these locations just as I'll drive past the birthplace of MLK, but sometimes it really is better to forget.

Here, then, are a collection of 5 notorious mass murder locations deleted from the Earth.

H. H. Holmes' castle
W. 63rd Street and S. Wallace Street, Chicago, IL 60621

During the 1893 World's Fair, evil opportunist Herman Mudgett set up camp in Chicago by building a block-long three story hotel to house fairgoers. Known to the neighborhood's residents as Dr. H. H. Holmes, his "castle" was a landmark for many of the locals. On the inside, it was a confusing maze of more than a hundred rooms, mostly windowless, with trap doors, dead end staircases, soundproof rooms, and torture devices. He used gas lines to suffocate his victims and dumped their bodies into the cellar via chutes attached to many of the rooms.

Holmes was eventually captured and charged with a handful of murders, even though he confessed to more than 27. Very soon after his capture, the castle burned to the ground. It has been presumed that the residents could not stand the thought of such a devilish structure looming over their neighborhood any longer, especially with prospectors looking to turn it into a tourist attraction.

Today, the plot of land is occupied by a U.S. Post Office, possibly because no one else would build on the land.

Gein farm
Archer Avenue and 2nd Avenue, Plainfield, WI

Ed Gein is not remembered for the two murders he committed as much as he is notable for being an extensive body snatcher. His childhood and early adulthood were dominated by an overbearing and overprotective mother who convinced him that the world outside was dangerous and that everyone was evil. She'd beat him and his brother mercilessly. His older brother died of a heart attack during a brush fire, and when his mother subsequently passed away, he lost his last friend in the world.

Gein filled the void by digging up corpses in nearby graveyards and manipulating their bodies. He'd turn body parts into household items such as cookware and belts, but also made a suit out of female body parts to fulfill a wish to be transgendered. The bizarre practices occurring on his extremely rural farm were exposed in 1957 when a sales receipt linked him to a missing person whose body was later found on his property.

In early 1958, the property was scheduled to be turned into a tourist attraction but, just like the Holmes hotel, it mysteriously burned to the ground. Today, the site is overgrown with trees and there is no evidence of any structures, with the exception of one poorly maintained dirt road.

The Polanski-Tate residence
10050 Cielo Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90120

Film director Roman Polanski resided here with his very pregnant wife, actress Sharon Tate, in the 1960s. It was a large, classic estate built in the 40s and previously occupied by numerous Hollywood socialites before becoming the site of one of the most horrible murders in Los Angeles history. The followers of Charles Manson killed six people on the property in a senseless massacre intended to spark a race riot in the city on August 8, 1969.

Despite an enormous amount of publicity surrounding the home, the property changed owners for many years and continued to have occupants. Trent Reznor, the musician behind Nine Inch Nails, was the last to live in the house. After meeting Tate's sister, he decided that living in the house was actually insulting to the victims and allowed it to be demolished — but not before taking the famous front door to be installed in his New Orleans recording studio.

Hollywood producer Jeff Franklin purchased the property in 1994 and built a new mansion in its place. The new address is 10066.

John Wayne Gacy's Chicago home
8213 W. Summerdale Avenue, Chicago, IL 60656

Though sentenced to 10 years in prison for sodomizing two teenage boys, Gacy was released after just 18 months in June of 1970. Forbidden from seeing his wife and children, he moved to Chicago where he lured young men to his house, murdered them, and buried them in the crawlspace. He committed so many of these crimes that he ran out of room under the house and in the yard and began throwing bodies into a nearby river.

When a 15-year-old boy went missing after telling his mother that he was going to see about a job with Gacy, policed arrived at his house with a search warrant. A relatively lengthy investigation resulted in the discovery of more than thirty victims. Gacy actually assisted on-site during the exhumation of the bodies, providing highly accurate details about where they could be found.

The house and everything else on the property was demolished in 1979. The lot stood empty in the neighborhood for years until another house was built in its place — with a different street address.

Jeffrey Dahmer's apartment
924 N. 25th Street, Milwaukee, WI 53233

Dahmer moved into apartment 213 in May 1990 and began murdering there within two months. He had already killed five people, but did so while living with relatives. This was his own place, where he could do whatever he wanted with people. It wasn't really his intention to kill anyone, but that was the only way he could think of to make them submit to his will. He killed twelve people in the apartment, keeping body parts in various states of decay, including several human heads, severed hands, and a heart in the refrigerator.

Neighbors complained of the smell, but he wasn't caught until June 1991 when one of his victims escaped and brought the police back to find numerous photos of his deceased victims and a large barrel with a decaying body in it.

Dahmer's crimes were so horrifying that the entire apartment building was torn down. At one point, plans for a memorial in its place were made, but the idea never materialized. The lot remains empty.

Looking at these locations, I realized that two were in Chicago and two were in Wisconsin, and all four involved the individual's own residence while the L.A. incident happened in a victim's residence. Is there something about the cold weather of the Great Lakes that makes psychopaths act violently within their own homes? Who knows.

In the case of the Centennial Olympic Park bombing that I missed by only a few hours, the incident killed one person directly and lead to the heart attack of a camera man running to cover the chaos. But because 111 people were injured, a memorial was placed in the park called the Quilt of Remembrance. It's not the exact location of the bomb's detonation, but sometimes you don't really need to be quite that accurate.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Daytrip: A Triumvirate of Monadnocks

About 300 million years ago, Africa slammed into North America at the incredible rate of 1 inch per year, crumpling the Earth's surface and pushing mountains high into the air. Where mountains did not form, the extreme pressure melted rock, some of which exploded out of the surface as volcanoes. Some balls of liquid rock floated up toward the surface like massive underground bubbles, but cooled into rock instead. Millions of years later, rain washed away the softer crust, exposing the granite mounds.

The Gum Pole
It was one of those mounds of granite that I was stretching on next to an electrical pole covered in chewing gum that had been driven into its surface. My brother and I had resolved to climb Stone Mountain that morning, a particularly prominent rock outcropping known as a monadnock. Generally speaking, a monadnock is different than a traditional mountain in that it's basically the cooled contents of a volcano that never exploded, while a mountain consists of layers of rock pushed upward by tectonic forces. This is why mountains generally slope or are jagged while a monadnock looks like the exposed upper half of a ball (which is effectively what it is).

There are many monadnocks in the piedmont region of Georgia (everything above several hundred feet in altitude), and most of them are near Atlanta. This is because the city is the halfway point between the Appalachian mountains and the coastal plain. Stone Mountain is world-famous, but very little is known about its two monadnock neighbors, Arabia and Panola Mountains.

Because they are so close together and open to the public for hiking, we decided to conquer all three in one day. Each are easy-to-moderate hikes of less than a 3 mile round-trip, so there wouldn't be any question about whether it would be possible.

Stone Mountain

We began at Stone Mountain, the most famous of all southeastern U.S. granite domes. Arriving in the parking lot of the walk-up trail on a Sunday at 9:30 AM, I expected the place to be packed, but the 32 degree weather probably prevented that. We hiked upward, past the gum pole, past countless chunks of dislodged granite that made it feel like we were climbing a one-mile-long staircase. A covered gazebo 75% of the way up provided picnic tables for a quick break before completing the most difficult—and steep—portion of the trail. Metal railings driven into the granite ensured stability in this section.

Before we knew it, we were at the top—a large, mostly flat peak almost entirely devoid of plant life. The peak is surrounded by a chain link fence that prevents you from falling to your doom, and a nice, clean building at the top contains bathrooms and water fountains. It's all very unique and scenic, but there's nothing like the view.

In all directions, especially on a day with unlimited visibility like the one we were experiencing, one can view all of north Georgia. Looking east, the relatively impressive skyline of Atlanta, Buckhead, and Sandy Springs; further north, Kennesaw and Sweat Mountains are visible, followed by an extremely long line of the Blue Ridge Mountains that stretch into North Carolina. (Click here for a full resolution version of this panorama.)

The Blue Ridge Mountains

From here, I tried to locate Arabia Mountain by sight, but it was blocked by a slightly higher neighborhood in front of it. At nearly 1700 feet, I expected to be able to see anything, but I couldn't see through the hillside that was taller than the next mountain we were headed to.

We walked to the north face of our monadnock to look down at the artificial-snow-covered field 800 feet below. Children mounted inflatable tubes and were pushed downhill by employees underneath the looming shadow of the world's largest bas relief sculpture: A 3-D rendering of three Civil War generals on horseback more than several hundred feet in height. We stood beneath the first skylift transit of the day, my brother eagerly anticipating the screams of terrified passengers, but it was empty. On the far side of the mountain, opposite the walk-up trail, no one was present; just us, a waist-high chain-link fence, and signs that said "DO NOT CROSS". My brother begged me to take a photo of him standing on the other side, which I did, immediately calling the police because he was breaking the law. Criminal!

A 15 minute stroll back down the mountain lead us to a now very full parking lot, where we consulted the map to determine the best way to get to Arabia Mountain.


  • Take I-285 to the east side of Atlanta
  • Take Highway 78 east to Stone Mountain
  • Veer right onto the Memorial Drive exit
  • Veer right onto the E. Ponce DeLeon Ave. exit
  • Turn left onto E. Ponce DeLeon Ave. and head into downtown Stone Mountain
  • Turn left onto James B. Rivers Memorial Dr.
  • Pay $10 to enter the park, then turn right
  • Turn immediately left into the parking lot of the walk-up trail

Arabia Mountain

Our next destination was the place that had sparked my interest in monadnocks to begin with. Sure, I took Stone Mountain for granted like everyone else, mostly because it had been turned into a major tourist attraction (and for good reason), but Arabia Mountain was something new. Something relatively untouched. A place where movement wouldn't be restricted to the confines of a chain link fence. Somewhere I could fall to my doom if I chose to. And it was free.

We drove south out of downtown Stone Mountain after stopping at a German bakery for a massive pretzel, passing through the highly industrial towns of Redan and Lithonia. Arabia was a well-kept secret because most Atlantans steer clear of this part of town. It's not dangerous, but it didn't seem like there would be a unique, high-quality hiking trail anywhere nearby. We didn't expect one either, until we arrived.

We parked on the west side of Klondike Rd. at a free parking lot with a welcome center for the park and made a quarter mile hike on a well-paved wide path to a boardwalk on the other side of the street. The mountain immediately loomed over us like a mini-Stone-Mountain. I didn't see a single person anywhere nearby, except those in their cars zooming past us. Unfortunately, we were stuck on the boardwalk, hovering ten or so feet over the granite.

"I'm pretty sure we can just jump this railing and walk up there," I said, motioning to the peak. We decided to keep walking the boardwalk and see where it took us, which turned out to be a pretty good idea.

At the end of the half mile walk, we ended up in the parking lot for the Arabia Mountain walk-up trail. Turns out we could have just parked there to begin with. A small and seemingly unoccupied nature preserve was located adjacent to this lot.

Stonecrop at the peak
The walk-up trail, dotted by piles of cemented rocks to mark the way, cut a sometimes narrow, sometimes impossibly wide path through the forest on its way to the peak, passing by an uncountable number of solution pools filled with tiny red plant called stonecrop (Diamorpha smallii). An old, abandoned, and hardly worked quarry was located close to the entrance, and judging by the massive piles of broken glass in the area, serves as a popular place for underage drinking. I imagined that later that night a group of high school kids would be sitting there in almost total darkness, sucking down watery beers and watching out for the flashlights of law enforcement. They probably had 100 escape routes planned.

Pushing on, we came to a clearing where nothing taller than my toes would grow: the peak. It was an easy climb, and we passed several other hikers with tiny dogs. I thought about my pathetic tiny dog and how much trouble he'd had hiking Amicalola Falls, considering this a much more suitable hike for him. I wished I had brought him.

Panola in the distance
At the peak, we looked to the southwest to see a very clear view of Panola Mountain, our next destination; to the west, the tops of downtown Atlanta skyscrapers peeked out over the trees; to the northwest, a very faint glimpse of an antenna sticking up over the tree line which we deduced to be the broadcast tower atop Stone Mountain.

Though we had a 360 degree view, it baffled me that I could not see Stone Mountain. As it turns out, though Arabia Mountain has a 180 foot prominence over the surrounding area, its 940 foot peak is actually lower than the average Atlanta altitude by about 60 feet. With nearby hills and trees reaching well over this height, our view of Stone Mountain was entirely blocked. That explained why I couldn't see it from the top of that other enormous monadnock.

To get back to the car, we decided to cut west and climb up onto the boardwalk. We clambered down precarious drops where stone had broken away thousands of years ago and appreciated that no one was telling us where we could or could not fall to our doom. Coming close to the boardwalk, the ground leveled off into the largest repository of broken glass I had ever seen in my life. If the quarry was a renowned drinking spot, this flat granite outcropping near the Arabia Mountain parking lot was an alcohol mecca. For hundreds of feet in all directions, chunks of broken glass smaller than two inches in diameter blanketed the ground.

And just as we were prepared to climb the railing up onto the boardwalk, we realized that we were at the entrance. We just had to cut to the right of it to make a quarter mile hike back to the car.

  • Leave the park via James B. Memorial Dr.
  • Turn left onto Main St.
  • Miles later, cross the train tracks and turn left onto S. Stone Mountain Lithonia Rd.
  • In downtown Lithonia, veer right onto Max Cleland Blvd.
  • Turn right onto Main St.
  • Turn left onto Klondike Rd.
  • Go straight through the roundabout at Rockland Rd.
  • Turn right into the parking lot

Panola Mountain

The last monadnock in our journey was the most mysterious one. It was the only one of the three located outside of Dekalb County; it seemed significantly smaller than the other two, but taller than Arabia; it was mostly covered in trees, but from my view of it from Arabia, there would clearly be photo opportunities and skyline to be seen.

We turned right out of the Arabia Mountain parking lot and several miles later ended up in the parking lot for the Arabia Mountain Trail. Parking cost us $5 in an envelope in a big green box, so we were glad to have some cash on us. I walked up to a bathroom to see a sign that said, in no unclear terms, that the walk-up trail was not to be attempted without a guide. The guide would cost $7 per person, and was only available on Saturdays at 3 PM. We sat down and waited for 146 hours.

In reality, we decided to see if we could discreetly hike it anyway. A big, picturesque lake marked the entrance to the path, which was a continuation of that wide paved path we'd walked on at Arabia. We passed by a decaying barn, which urged us not to step off the path. Later, we passed a chimney in the woods, where signs yelled at us to not step off the path. A short while later, we passed by TWO chimneys in the woods, where a sign threatened us within an inch of our lives if we stepped off the path. Before reaching the fabled double chimney, we had seen a side path cut off to the south with a sign warning us that would be mercilessly beaten for stepping off the main path. We kept that in mind as we looked for somewhere we could clip off into the woods, but the very strict code of conduct in Rockbridge County was starting to get a bit unnerving.

The Forbidden Trail
Eventually we came to a large footbridge with a maximum weight limit of 999 pounds. Since the river underneath it was the border between Rockbridge and Dekalb counties, we realized we'd gone too far. The only side path we'd seen must have been the one leading up to the mountain's peak, but we were being threatened with execution for attempting it. After breaching the fence at Stone Mountain and uncovering two hotbeds of illegal activity at Arabia Mountain, we decided not to push our luck and walked back to the car.

The strict rules at Panola were disconcerting after the unbridled freedom we'd enjoyed at Arabia. Though Panola is apparently taller, Arabia wins for its openness.

  • Turn right out of the Arabia parking lot onto Klondike Rd.
  • Go straight ahead at the stop sign
  • Turn right into the parking lot approximately 20 inches later
So there you have it: The monadnocks of East Atlanta. It's easy to hike all three in one day, even if you're not terribly in shape. But if you want to reach the peak of each, make sure you're at Panola at 3 PM on a Saturday. Had I known this ahead of time I would have spent $12 on Skee-Ball at a local bowling alley.

The monadnocks are a bit of an oddity. They're giant bubbles of cooled lava that attempted to float upward and explode out of the earth. Whether walking on them, having a picnic on them, or chugging fermented barley on them, you should never forget that you are standing on a frozen moment in volcanic activity. It's as if someone hit the pause button and then let the ground wash away around it so you could enjoy its upper portion.

When you're sick of hiking in the woods, there's always the alien landscape of the monadnocks.